Kanban Board vs. Scrum Board

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

Kanban and Scrum each place an emphasis on making project work and its progress visible. Both methodologies accomplish this using a board but each has its own unique approach. Learn the similarities and differences of Kanban boards and Scrum boards.


Elise has been doing development work for various software projects as a contractor. Until now, she has worked exclusively with Scrum but has recently joined a project team that uses Kanban. She is hopeful that the transition will be made easier by her experience, since Kanban and Scrum are Agile methodologies and because each is managed through the use of project boards.


Kanban is an Agile methodology that focuses on completing work in a continuous flow. The project work takes the form of user stories, which detail needed functionality for specific users. The continuous flow replaces the use of cycles to set specific time frames for when user stories are taken on and completed. The goal is to continue taking on and completing user stories without disruption until the project is completed. However, without specific time frames, there is the potential for work to continuously be started but never finished.

In order to ensure work is completed, Kanban uses a work in progress (WIP) limit. This is a limit on the number of user stories at each point of progress within the flow. User stories cannot advance to the next point of progress if the WIP limit has already been reached. For example, if a team has a WIP limit of five and is currently working on five user stories, they cannot take on an additional one until at least one of the current user stories is completed.


Like Kanban, Scrum works with user stories, but instead of using a continuous flow, Scrum is an Agile methodology that focuses on completing work in repeated cycles. The cycles, known as sprints are typically two weeks in length and are a timeframe in which specific user stories are worked on. The goal is to fully develop and test all user stories by the end of the sprint.

Prior to being accepted into a sprint, user stories are given a story point estimate, which is a numeric value that represents the time and effort involved in completing the user story. Over a number of sprints, the team can measure velocity, which is the number of points completed per sprint. To ensure efficiency, the team accepts user stories into each sprint that have a sum total equal to their velocity.


Once Elise has an understanding of Kanban and Scrum, she looks to take her experience with project boards used in Scrum and connect it to the use in Kanban. In the respective methodologies, the Kanban and Scrum boards are the focal points. While each methodology has its own approach to the board, there are some similarities. The similarities and the differences between them directly align with the similarities and differences of the methodologies.

Work Items

The primary display of both the Kanban and Scrum boards is the project work. In each, the project work is visually displayed on cards. For Kanban, user stories are primarily displayed on the board because these are the required form of work items. However, Kanban boards contain all available work, so less-defined work items, known as epics, can be displayed on the board as well. These are items that need to be further defined and broken down before they can advance through the board.

Like Kanban, Scrum boards also display user stories. However, these are not the only form that project work can take on the board. Some Scrum teams choose to break user stories down even further into the tasks involved with completing them. The Scrum board for these teams still displays user stories but also displays the tasks on cards and advances these throughout the board.


Like their display of work items, Kanban and Scrum boards have similarities and differences in terms of their layouts. Kanban boards typically have a simple layout of three progress lanes. The first lane contains all available work items, including user stories and epics, and is often labeled 'To Do'. The second lane contains the user stories the team is currently working on and is labeled 'Doing' or 'In Progress'. The third lane is for completed user stories and is often labeled 'Done'.

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